Why go Electric?

By Mark Nicholson

April 2024

The growing benefits of forklift electrification

Are you thinking of switching from diesel or LPG to electric counterbalance forklifts? Mark Nicholson summarises the increasingly strong case for electrification.

Traditionally, IC engine lift trucks were the obvious choice for strength and durability. Today, the best electric alternatives can match their power, while withstanding harsh conditions. In applications previously dominated by engine-powered trucks, you can now enjoy the many advantages of electric technology.

One major advantage and characteristic of electric forklifts is their simple plug-in diagnostics and troubleshooting.

Of course, in some workplaces, going electric is a legal obligation. Rules on exhaust emissions in confined areas are tightening. You may also be facing regulatory pressures to reduce your organisation’s carbon footprint. At the same time, green incentives such as government grants and tax savings could be encouraging you to make the change. Awareness of your environmental responsibilities – along with customer interest in your commitment to sustainability – is another consideration.

But here’s another good reason to go electric: it will increase your profits. As you will see, below, electric lift trucks have important practical and productivity benefits. They also lower your total cost of operation (TCO).


Electric forklifts now compete in applications previously dominated by IC engine trucks.

What can electric forklifts do for you?

1. Banish emissions

Noxious exhaust gases and particulate materials can cause respiratory illnesses and make existing health problems worse. With zero tailpipe emissions, electric lift trucks mean cleaner air in your workplace. If the electricity used to charge them is generated without burning fossil fuels, they also cut overall carbon emissions.

2. Boost energy efficiency

Using energy efficiently reduces your running costs. In addition, it helps in shrinking your carbon footprint. The latest electric forklift motors and controllers are highly efficient. Other energy-saving features typical of electric forklifts include electronic magnetic brakes and LED lights. For even lower energy consumption, the trucks can be programmed to limit speeds. A further choice on many electric trucks is between lead-acid and lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries. Li-ion gives higher performance, efficiency and runtime.

3. Save on maintenance

With fewer moving parts to maintain and routinely replace, electric forklift trucks save on maintenance expense. Quick and easy servicing minimises the related costs of parts, labour and downtime. One major advantage and characteristic of electric forklifts is their simple plug-in diagnostics and troubleshooting. Faults are spotted sooner and easily fixed.

Maintaining batteries is much easier today, thanks to convenient access and exchange features. Li-ion technology offers the added benefit of fast opportunity charging, to keep trucks in action without battery-related downtime and changes. A Li-ion battery also has a much longer lifespan, so you will need fewer replacements.


Plug-in diagnostics and troubleshooting help to minimise downtime.

4. Maintain truck resale value

Electric forklift trucks tend to hold higher residual values, thanks to their easier maintenance and smaller number of wearing parts. As buyer demand for used electric forklifts grows, these values will be enhanced. When choosing new electric lift trucks, look for a robust construction that minimises repair and part replacement needs. For wet, dirty, dusty and other harsh conditions, effective sealing of key components is especially important.

5. Perform powerfully

Today, electric forklifts can provide all the power and speed you want. What’s more, their performance can be delivered and adjusted intelligently to meet your needs. To give just one example, Cat® Lift Trucks has developed PowerBurst. This feature automatically gives a burst of extra torque, if needed, to maintain ramp speed or to accelerate strongly. It ensures reliably powerful performance at every moment, even when heavily loaded.

Where consistency is a priority, Li-ion batteries are the best choice. They give a more constant voltage curve compared to lead-acid. This avoids any drop-off in forklift performance towards the end of a shift.

6. Drive with inbuilt intelligence

In electric counterbalance forklifts, sophisticated electronics and smart control are revolutionising driver satisfaction. For instance, there are trucks which automatically optimise driving precision, turning speeds and stability. Cat® forklifts with the Responsive Drive system (RDS) are especially clever. Drivers report that their truck seems to know how they want it to behave at any moment.

7. Handle loads intelligently

Similarly intelligent control can be found in the hydraulic systems of some electric forklifts. Within the Cat range, for example, you may find RDS mast tuning which adjusts constantly according to the driver’s behaviour. There is also the Cat SmoothFlow load-sensing hydraulic system, which continuously compensates for weight. The result is precise, smooth and consistent control, even when two or more hydraulic functions are used simultaneously.


Driving and load handling benefit from intelligent control in high-quality electric lift trucks.

When choosing new electric lift trucks, look for a robust construction that minimises repair and part replacement needs.

8. Adapt to your needs

Electric forklifts offer the greatest scope for programming performance modes to meet the needs of different drivers and tasks. Some trucks give the choice of simple mode selection (between pre-set modes) or fully customised settings. The latter can be applied by service engineers, with adjustable parameters including lifting, lowering and travel speeds.

9. Enhance safety

Precise control of lift truck driving and load handling is essential to safe operation. In electric forklifts, this is enhanced by systems and features like those mentioned in sections 6, 7 and 8. Supplementary safety aids commonly offered include an automatic parking brake and hill hold feature. Devices such as seat switches may be fitted to prevent travel and hydraulic movement if the operator is not seated.

10. Maximise agility

Manoeuvring of electric forklifts is smooth and agile, thanks largely to their precise and responsive steering systems. In some, you will find dual drive set-ups, where each of the front wheels has its own drive motor. These are intelligently controlled and can rotate in opposite directions when necessary. Sometimes they are combined with a rear axle which can rotate by more than 100 degrees. This enables instant side turns, with no need for initial backward movement. The result is exceptional 4-wheel steering agility.

An option you may occasionally find on 3-wheel electric counterbalance forklifts is 360⁰ steering. The truck can turn and move in the opposite direction in one smooth manoeuvre, without stopping. It allows higher – but safe – turning speeds and reduces G-forces on the load.


Electric lift truck steering systems offer remarkable agility.

11. Optimise ergonomics and comfort

Noise and vibration generated by a forklift truck can leave its driver feeling tired, stressed and sick. One of the first things drivers notice when switching to an electric counterbalance truck is its quiet, smooth, low-vibration performance. While all electric forklifts have this advantage, some models have even quieter hydraulic pumps and drive units for extra luxury.

12. Lower your TCO (total cost of operation)

The TCO of a forklift truck is much more important than its purchase, lease or hire price. Moving to an electric counterbalance forklift will save you money continuously. You will pay less for the electricity it uses than you previously spent on diesel or LPG fuel. Your servicing and repair bills will be lower, and you will lose less production through maintenance-related downtime. Meanwhile, the truck will maintain a good resale value over a long lifetime.

A good electric forklift will raise your productivity, thanks to its superior manoeuvrability, control and precision. Its controlled performance, along with automated safety aids, will reduce the risk of costly accidents and loss of work time. Meanwhile, its ergonomics and comfort will help minimise sick leave.

Find out more

Cat Lift Trucks offers a comprehensive line-up of high-quality electric counterbalance forklifts. They range from compact 1.4 tonne 3-wheel models to 12.0 tonne heavy electrics. For full product details, visit the website:

For further information on electric forklift advantages, visit: